Tundra transformed: Toyota pickup gains hybrid, coil springs, big screens

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Built tough. Built high-tech. Built in America.

Like its Detroit Three competitors, the Toyota Tundra pickup has been completely remade for the 2020s. While unable to match its opposition's breathtaking range of trims and engines (not to mention heavy duty work trucks), the Texas-made pickup is more competitive than ever while offering Toyota's proven formula of reliability, value and off-road machismo.

King of the hill: The 2022 Toyota Tundra is redesigned with more powerful engines and new features to compete with full-sizers from the Detroit Three.

Developed with teams in California and Ann Arbor — and assembled in San Antonio — the ’22 model is the first Toyota truck to offer a hybrid powertrain, and only the second to feature a multi-link rear suspension with coil springs.

With aggressive styling, a state-of-the-art digital interior, and rock-chewing TRD Pro model, Tundra is the most competitive tool the Japanese brand has offered. While offering range-topping TRD Pro and Platinum models, the Tundra will likely start in the mid-$30,000s and make a strong value pitch with standard adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, and an all-new, 389-horsepower, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine replacing its old nail V-8.

“We took a fresh, transformational approach to our truck development and had to rethink many things we’d previously done,” said Senior Vice President for Product Development Mike Sweers, who has been navigator aboard some of Toyota's ambitious Baja 1000 race entries.

The truck matches innovations found in the current generation of Detroit pickups — Ram-like coil springs, Silverado-like big horizontal dash touchscreen, Ford-like materials bed innovation — while bringing unique Toyota design and powertrain innovation.

Tundra looks like it drove out of a LEGO Technic box with bold, segmented shapes. Its so-called “Technical Muscle” design theme is a sharp departure from the previous, second-generation model's conservative lines. Following in the footsteps of Toyota and Lexus models that President Akio Toyoda demanded be styled to turn heads, Tundra features deep body scallops and a lantern jaw.

“Our design goal from the beginning was to create the most powerful, rugged and sophisticated looking full-size pickup that will take Tundra to a whole new level,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s U.S.-based Calty Design Research.

The Tundra's aluminum-reinforced composite bed is offered in three lengths.

While Toyota, like Ram, Chevy and GMC, has resisted Ford’s radical turn to aluminum body panels, it nevertheless delivers an unusual, aluminum-reinforced composite bed that Toyota claims will be rust-free without compromising strength. The bed is offered in 5.5, 6.5, and 8.1-foot configurations. They are anchored to two different, four-door Double and CrewMax cabs.

The material light-weighting continues in the tailgate, which loses 20% of its girth while adding a remote drop key-fob feature like Silverado.

Under the bed, the Toyota sits on a multi-link suspension with coil springs (double-wishbone suspension up front). The push to a more SUV-like suspension geometry suggests the Toyota's ambitions as an aggressive handling truck true to its TRD Pro performance badge. To complement its upgraded suspension, Tundra offers Fox (TRD Pro) and Bilstein (TRD) performance shocks and versatile air suspension for premium trims.

Turning over a new leaf: The 2022 Toyota Tundra ditches leaf for rear coil springs.

Top grades also offer hydraulic cab mounts for a smoother road ride on the truck’s traditional ladder frame.

At its heart, Tundra is the first full-size pickup to ditch the V-8 engine. The core, twin-turbo V-6 produces a healthy 389 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque — eclipsing the previous-gen, 5.7-liter V-8’s 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. While other automakers offer V-8 and diesel options, Tundra tries to incorporate attributes of both — torque and fuel efficiency — with the hybrid (Ford offers a similar hybrid).

When married to an electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery (a Toyota staple even as other manufacturers depend on lithium-ion cells), the i-Force MAX hybrid powertrain lists an impressive 437 ponies and stump-pulling 583 pound-feet of torque that can operate in electric-only mode up to 18 mph. Both are controlled by 10-speed transmissions with towing capacity of 12,000 pounds — an increase of almost 20% (payload is 1,940 pounds).

The inside is wrapped in LEGOland styling with small instrument and 8-inch console screens in the base model before big, 12.3-inch and 14-inch digital screens are optioned like Detroit Three models. Tundra debuts Toyota’s Audio Multimedia system that includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — as well as current voice recognition cues to wake up the system, like “Hey Toyota."

The new Tundra offers a choice of three screens.

Though shy of Ford Raptor and Ram TRX super trucks, the TRD Pro — raised an additional 1.1 inches on its Fox shocks — is aimed at the Ford F-150 Tremor, Ram Rebel and Chevy's new Silverado ZR2. The beefy hybrid V-6 is the TRD Pro’s standard mill. Other off-road enhancements include underbody armor and all-terrain Falken tires.

Though refreshed in 2014, the Tundra’s core chassis and drivetrain were last changed in 2007.

Taking a page from Ford, Toyota's Downhill Assist control and CRAWL control settings allow a sort of low-speed, off-road cruise control. In tow mode, the hybrid claims smoother operation thanks to the electric motor.

Tundra is festooned with tow-assist features and multiple camera views — the headliner being a Panoramic View Monitor that uses cameras to display a top-down, 360-degree view of the truck on the 14-inch monitor for better maneuvering. There is no sign, however, that Tundra is trying to keep pace with GM an Ford hands-free driver-assist systems.

The 2022 Tundra will arrive at dealerships later this year. It will be available in SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum, 1794 and TRD Pro grades.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.